An interview with Sunshine (Quem) Tenasco, the mind – and hands – behind Quemeez. Authentic First Nations Moccasins with a modern twist.
FAB: How did you come up with the idea for Quemeez and how did you get started as a business?
Quem: I made a pair of moccasins for my 2nd daughter and the first day she wore them, she lost one. Of course. So, I looked at modern slipper patterns and fused it with traditional Algonquin materials (such as deer hide and glass beads) and voila, Quemeez were born. People kept asking me where they could get some. It was difficult to keep up with the demand and by the end of the year I made the decision to leave my job as a high school teacher and start making Quemeez full-time. I haven’t looked back since.
FAB: Were you immersed in Algonquin culture growing up? Were these traditional art forms a part of your upbringing?
Quem: I grew up on the Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg reserve and I always remember beading and sewing. I just always remember knowing how. I remember going to the cultural center when I was a little girl, sitting around a huge table with a bunch of kids and two elderly women would show us all how to bead and sew. I remember being surrounded by beads, leather, thimbles and scissors. Not much has changed.
The elders taught us all how to be resourceful. And how to use every part of an animal. The fur to keep us warm, the meat to eat, and the skin for moccasins, mittens and coats. We were all taught not to waste.
Quem: Well, they used to take a lot longer when I did everything myself. Now, I have a person who cuts them, sews them and a group of women from my community who bead them. So, Quemeez has gone from making a pair in 4-5 hours, to making a pair in an hour. We do have a team now, so we are able to produce a lot more.
FAB: Tell me about the team that you have working with you…
Quem: There are 5-6 women from my community who are regular beaders and two men who do most of the cutting and sewing for me. Without them, Quemeez would not exist and I am so appreciative of all the hard work they do.
FAB: What are your hopes and dreams for Quemeez? Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
Quem: My dream is to have a manufacturing facility in our community to provide full-time employment by making these baby moccasins. Having a manufacturing facility in our community would help us create self-sufficiency. It would be a step in the right direction. We are very resourceful people and I know that we can do this. We can create something great because of baby moccasins! I imagine seeing Quemeez in boutique stores across Canada and the USA, as well as having Quemeez carried by a national chain store.